Boosting Your Immune System, How the Immune System Works, and More

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Do you seem to catch cold after cold, while your friends sail through winter unscathed? Maybe you need to think about strengthening your immune system.

You may pay more attention to the health of your immune system during the winter, when antioxidants. Try berries, citrus fruits, kiwi, apples, red grapes, kale, onions, spinach, sweet potatoes, and carrots.

Other immune-boosting foods include fresh garlic, which may have antiviral and antibiotic properties, and old-fashioned chicken soup. Studies show that, if you do come down with a cold or the flu, a bowl of steaming chicken soup can ease inflammation and help you get well faster.

And mushrooms such as reichi, maitake, and shiitake may have a strong influence on immune function as well as enhance the production of chemicals that help your body respond to infection.

Get : Regular bouts with insomnia may not only leave you feeling fatigued during the day, but also leave you vulnerable to illnesses, including , flu, and other infections. Long term, poor sleep also has been shown to increase the risk of other health problems, including obesity and diabetes.

The body uses sleep as a means of healing itself, says Scott Berliner, president and supervising pharmacist at Life Science Pharmacy in New York. When we don’t get enough sleep – or reach the deeper – healing is impaired.

It’s hard to measure exactly sleep’s protective effect on the immune system, and researchers don’t know precisely how sleep improves immunity. Like antioxidants, sleep may help reduce oxidative stress, which then stops cells from being weakened and harmed. But “clearly, sleep – at least seven hours a night – is associated with increased resistance to infectious diseases,” says Polsky.

Practice stress management: When your body is under constant stress, you’re more vulnerable to everything from the common cold to major diseases.

“Stress from time to time is not necessarily a bad thing. But to not have relief from the stress — to be under constant stress — is deleterious to health,” says Polsky. That’s because a steady cascade of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, weaken the immune system.

Chronic stress is linked to heart disease and hypertension, and it can also have an effect on white blood cell function, Polsky says.

“When I speak to people about lifestyle changes, I look at what they can do to manage their stress, whether it be meditating – maybe exercise is their form of meditation – whether it be spirituality of a religious nature. It really doesn’t matter,” says Berliner.

Don’t abuse alcohol or use recreational drugs: Drinking a moderate amount of alcohol appears to have some health benefits, such as lowering your risk of heart disease. What’s “moderate?” No more than two drinks a day for a man, or one drink for a woman. But drinking too much alcohol can inhibit the function of white blood cells and lower your resistance to infection, says Polsky. Using recreational drugs, including marijuana, has the same effect on white blood cells, weakening your immune system.

Strengthen : Research shows that people with close friendships and strong support systems tend to be healthier than those who lack such supports.

A good sexual relationship may provide even more immune system benefits. A study of college students found those who had sex once or twice a week had higher levels of an immune system protein called immunoglobulin A (IgA) than those who had less sex. Sex may also help immunity by reducing stress and improving sleep.

“I tell people to get good love in their lives — good support, good friendships, however they need to get that love,” says Berliner. Good relationships, along with a healthy diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep, are part of a holistic approach to boosting the immune system and protecting yourself from disease. “And to treat any problem holistically, there is no one-pill approach,” Berliner says.